Tackling anonymous racist abuse on social media must be a policy priority for the Government due to the rise of “toxic” messaging from hard-core racists, the race commission report has recommended.
In a damning indictment of the role of tech giants – such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – in the promotion of racism, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has called on ministers to clamp down on online abuse.
The Commission states that social media is helping to “amplify” racism within people’s own homes, which it says is creating a “unique torment and fear” for victims.
It warns that racist abuse is too often dismissed as “trolling”, meaning many prominent ethnic minority people routinely receive racist abuse from people who cannot be traced and held to account.
“Making anonymous abuse harder online is a complex issue but should be a public policy priority,” the report states.
And it adds: “Less frequent occurrences in the offline world can happen numerous times a day online. This amplifies the toxic messages of a small number of hard-core racists far beyond any sort of audience they would ever have had in the past, and is likely contributing to the fear that racism is increasing, despite evidence to the contrary.”
The document calls for “substantial penalties” for social media companies that fail to act in the face of racist content on their sites, as well as “naming and shaming” firms that do not comply.
It comes as the former France and Arsenal footballer Thierry Henry announced he was quitting social media as a result of the inaction by social media firms towards racist abuse and bullying.
The ex-striker highlighted yesterday how social media firms were able to prevent copyrighted videos from being uploaded but not racist abuse from anonymous accounts.
He called for changes that would see users asked to provide identification in order to set up an account.
The Government is committed to introducing its Online Harms Bill this parliament, having published a white paper back in December. But campaigners and peers have complained over the delays to the bill, which is unlikely to be passed into law until 2023.
Under the proposals, the Government intends to hand the regulator Ofcom the power to block access to social media sites and charge companies with fines worth up to 10 per cent of their global turnover if they fail to act.
The Commission also calls on the tech giants to work “in tandem” with the Government to remove racist abuse that is illegal.
A 2017 study by Amnesty International into the social media abuse suffered by 117 women MPs revealed that 45 per cent of the messages were aimed at the black Labour MP Diane Abbott and were deemed generally racist in nature.